From the Capitol: The Value of Our Local Nonprofits

March 24, 2014

Connecticut is supported by many incredible private nonprofit organizations. These institutions take care of us when we are sick, feed us when we are hungry and shelter us when we have no place else to go.

I think we all recognize the importance of these groups, but I do not think we always recognize their value. I believe that Connecticut needs to invest more in our nonprofit organizations that work directly with people in communities across the state.

Private organizations often do a better job serving the public than the state can, and it has been shown that they can do it for a lower cost in many cases.

According to a 2011 report from the Connecticut Legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee, private sector care can be better and less expensive than state care. The Committee reached this conclusion after conducting a review of state-funded 24-hour residential services for individuals with intellectual disabilities. They looked at services provided through the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and the Department of Social Services (DSS) compared to the services provided by private, nonprofit organizations working under contracts with the state. They found that the costs per client were higher for state-run services than for private organizations.

When I read the report, I was particularly amazed by the way the state was funding this care, and I am continuously amazed by this even today. While DDS received half of all funding for care, it was only able to serve 25 percent of patients. So, private organizations had to care for 75 percent of the population with the same amount of money DDS was spending. Private organizations not only made ends meet, they also had fewer deficiencies, and therefore provided better care for more people with the same budget.

Despite the clear evidence that private nonprofits do a better and more efficient job than the state can, I do not believe Connecticut has fully recognized this yet. There is still too much expensive state-provided care, when those funds would be much better spent supporting nonprofit community based organizations.

From my own experience with local nonprofits, I believe that these organizations are effective for two main reasons. First, most nonprofits have perfected the services they focus on. Second, these groups know their communities and the people they serve.

For example, the Sterling House is a very special local community center. This nonprofit organization offers key services to help improve quality of life for people in the Stratford area specifically. All staff members are community experts, because they are part of the community they serve. They can identify common problems and needs, and develop programming in response to best serve local people.

Sterling House has offered services and programming for over 80 years to people of all ages. Currently, they offer about 35-40 different programs annually. These include recreational activities, health screenings and food assistance. From mammography testing to food pantry access, the center is crucial to keeping Stratford happy and healthy. They take on a task that no government arm could ever fulfill.

I encourage everyone to take notice of their local nonprofit organizations, and appreciate the value and quality of the services they provide. I am constantly inspired by how much some can do with so little to start, and I hope Connecticut will continue to do more to support these incredible organizations.